Ger­man gi­ant backs out of Le Mans and World En­durance

Motor Sport News - - Headline News - By Rob Lad­brook

Bri­tish ace Oliver Jarvis will seek to re­main in the FIA World En­durance Cham­pi­onship next sea­son, even if it means sev­er­ing his ties with Audi Sport.

Jarvis has been part of Audi’s full-time WEC ros­ter for the last two sea­sons, and this year sits third in the cham­pi­onship along­side Audi R18 e-tron quat­tro team­mates Lu­cas di Grassi and Loic Du­val.

There are two races left – at Shang­hai, China and then the sea­son fi­nale in Bahrain later this month – and they will form Audi Sport’s fi­nal fore­see­able LMP1 out­ings af­ter the Ger­man firm an­nounced last week that it would wind up its sportscar pro­gramme at the end of this sea­son.

Jarvis, 32, said that the an­nounce­ment came as a shock to the sys­tem, and has left him as­sess­ing his op­tions to re­main on the grid for 2017. Jarvis’s cur­rent fac­tory driver deal with Audi Sport ex­pires at the end of this sea­son.

“Per­son­ally, this has come at the very worst time,” said Jarvis. “This year it feels like things have clicked for my­self, Lu­cas and Loic and the en­tire num­ber eight car crew. We had a string of bad luck last year, but this sea­son we got that break­through win at Spa [round two] and we’ve been chal­leng­ing in each round since. It’s such a shame that we won’t get that third year to­gether when I feel we re­ally could have gone for the Le Mans win and tried to dom­i­nate the cham­pi­onship.

“The news was a real shock, and we were told for­mally about two hours be­fore the press re­lease went out. But we knew some­thing wasn’t right. The big­gest shock was the im­me­di­acy of it end­ing this year, as all of the ru­mours sug­gested we had an­other sea­son and the

team were al­ready well down the line with de­vel­op­ment of next year’s car. Now that’s all for noth­ing.”

Jarvis is now left seek­ing a race seat for next sea­son. With Audi down­scal­ing much of its mo­tor­sport ac­tiv­i­ties for 2017, he has slim pickings should he be able to re­main with the In­gol­stadt mar­que. Jarvis has been part of Audi’s works mo­tor­sport pro­gramme since he joined the DTM in 2008.

“The next step will be about sit­ting down and see­ing what’s avail­able and what suits me best, but my op­tions are mas­sively nar­rowed at Audi in terms of what they can of­fer,” said­jarvis.

“For me, I have fought for so long to get to the top of the WEC, and I love the cham­pi­onship. It’s home to the best driv­ers and cars out there, so nat­u­rally I want to stay rac­ing here and at Le Mans. There may be a pos­si­bil­ity of a GT pro­gramme with Audi some­where, but my fo­cus is on stay­ing in the WEC. I’ve had nine amaz­ing years at Audi, and I’ve felt priv­i­leged to be part of the fam­ily for every one. But if I have to look else­where to con­tinue my ca­reer then I will.

“The World En­durance Cham­pi­onship will sur­vive with­out Audi. Sure, it’s a mas­sive blow when a brand that big bows out, but there’s still two big man­u­fac­tur­ers there [Porsche and Toy­ota] and new ones like BMW com­ing into the GT class in 2018. Hope­fully one door can shut and an­other can open for me as I feel I’ve proven my­self at this level. Man­u­fac­tur­ers come and go, and it’s a mat­ter of putting your­self in the right places to stay on the radar, and that’s what I have to do again now.”

For­mula E fo­cus

Audi’s with­drawal has been prompted by its par­ent com­pany, the Volk­swa­genAudi Group, brac­ing it­self for size­able fi­nan­cial penal­ties in the wake of the road car emis­sions scan­dal.

A sec­ond con­tribut­ing fac­tor is the de­cline in sales of turbo-diesel en­gines across Europe, with some coun­tries also com­ing un­der po­lit­i­cal pres­sure to ban the pow­er­trains en­tirely by the year 2030.

To­gether with the down­scal­ing of mo­tor­sport bud­gets, Audi has seen a chance to re­fo­cus its rac­ing ac­tiv­i­ties around elec­tric cars. The firm is due to launch a range of elec­tric road cars from 2018.

As such Audi will fo­cus on its For­mula E part­ner­ship with the Team Abt Scha­ef­fler squad, which would re­quire less in­vest­ment and re­source, free­ing some of the Audi tech­ni­cal depart­ment to move on to road car de­vel­op­ment.

Audi chair­man Ru­pert Stadler said: “We’re go­ing to con­test the race for the fu­ture on elec­tric power. As our pro­duc­tion cars are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly elec­tric, our mo­tor­sport cars, as Audi’s tech­nol­ogy spear­heads, have to be even more so.”

Dr Wolf­gang Ull­rich, who has led Audi Sport Team Joest for the last 18 years, added: “Af­ter 18 years in pro­to­type rac­ing that were ex­cep­tion­ally suc­cess­ful, it’s ob­vi­ously ex­tremely hard to leave. Audi Sport Team Joest shaped the WEC dur­ing this pe­riod like no other team. I would like to ex­press my thanks to our squad, Rein­hold Joest and his team, to the driv­ers, part­ners and spon­sors for this ex­tremely suc­cess­ful co­op­er­a­tion. It’s been a great time.”

Audi re­mains com­mit­ted to DTM, al­though each mar­que in the se­ries has agreed to run six cars rather than eight next year. There has been no de­ci­sion on its sup­port of Mat­tias Ek­strom’s World Ral­ly­cross Cham­pi­onship­win­ning EKS team. How­ever, Audi

has not ruled out ex­pand­ing its World Ral­ly­cross Cham­pi­onship pro­gramme be­yond just the sin­gle team. Much of that would hinge on the de­vel­op­ment of elec­tri­fied RX cars in the fu­ture though.

Toy­ota com­mit­ted

Toy­ota Ga­zoo Rac­ing has also is­sued a state­ment con­firm­ing that it re­mains com­mit­ted to its LMP1 pro­gramme, de­spite Audi’s with­drawal and its own im­pend­ing World Rally Cham­pi­onship at­tack.

The Toy­ota team, which ac­cel­er­ated de­vel­op­ment on a new tur­bocharged 2.4-litre en­gine for the WEC this year, said: “We are pre­par­ing for 2017 when we will re­turn with the tar­get of win­ning Le Mans and the world cham­pi­onship. We will miss Audi, which has been a strong and sports­man­like com­peti­tor and has helped to es­tab­lish the WEC as one of the fastest-grow­ing, most in­no­va­tive cham­pi­onships in mo­tor­sport.”

Porsche had con­firmed its LMP1 pro­gramme was guar­an­teed un­til 2018, with com­pany bosses sug­gest­ing the firm was think­ing even longer term.

Jarvis is keen to re­main at the front of the WEC

Audi’s first Le Mans 24 Hours vic­tory was in 2000

Audi will in­stead fo­cus on For­mula E deal with Abt

Du­val, Jarvis, di Grassi: in ti­tle fight

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